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June 26th, 2013

Unions and Black politicians make strange bedfellows



Harry Alford

To the Honorable Marcia Fudge, Chair - Congressional Black Caucus regarding racist construction unions:

Chair Fudge:

We are very disturbed that elected officials as well as civil rights organizations have this cordial relationship with construction unions. Construction unions have consistently discriminated against Black workers and contractors. 98% of all Black construction firms are nonunion. There is a reason- if they join a union the union will manage their employees and thus never hire them for work. The end result is the business being void of any Black workers and the former Black employees will soon be unemployed. Let’s look at the historical background on these 43 years of Jim Crow activity.

To enforce Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964, President Lyndon Johnson executed Executive Order 11246. From there Secretary of Labor George Schultz (Nixon Administration) ordered Dr. Arthur A. Fletcher to integrate construction employment on federal projects. Dr. Fletcher, former Chair of the National Black Chamber of Commerce, rolled out the Philadelphia Plan. From there he went to Chicago and eventually every major city in the United States. George Meany of the AFL-CIO was enraged and demanded the firing of Secretary Schultz. Dr. Fletcher had to have two secret service agents escort him on his tours. Meany was so furious that President Nixon sought advice from FBI Director J. Edgar Hoover. Today, we find construction unions holding on to that same evil attitude. With the exception of general labor and cement positions (lowest paying crafts), construction unions are in violation of Executive Order 11246 in each and every one of the other crafts. They shouldn’t even be certified as unions.

These construction unions are a prime contributor to Black unemployment. Show us a big city union town such as Cleveland, Detroit, Chicago, New York, Philadelphia, St. Louis and Los Angeles to name a few and we can show an inflamed "CUP Factor" (crime, unemployment and poverty). If you compare the states of Maryland and Virginia who have almost identical racial demographics, you will find that Virginia has three times the number of Blacks working highway construction than Maryland. Virginia is a Right to Work state and Maryland is not. Philadelphia came under so much pressure from the Black community that Mayor Nutter and the City Council canceled all of their Project Labor Agreements (PLA’s are union only projects). Shortly thereafter, Mayor Nutter was ordered to reinstate them by the construction unions. He complied and, once again, betrayed the Black, Hispanic, Asian and women construction workers and the minority contingent of contractors. The Washington, DC Baseball Stadium was declared a PLA once again the Black community was betrayed – not one projected diversity goal was met. Strangely and shortly thereafter, the new Homeland Security building was announced ($1 billion project) and the same Black elected officials in DC were happy for it. It is like the Stockholm Syndrome.

The legacy of Black craftsmanship is a proud one. It was our forefathers who built all of the large buildings and mansions throughout the South. The Capitol where you do your work was built by American slaves and it is still standing tall today. At the beginning of the industrial revolution, many of these gifted workers saw an opportunity to move north and apply their skills. They would work for less as union scales are excessive and cause inflated construction costs. Usually, it is the taxpayer or consumer who has to pay those inflated costs caused by greed and lack of competitive bidding. The enraged unions had two congressmen rig the game. Congressmen Davis and Bacon convinced Congress to prop up wages and forbid competitive alternatives on public funded projects. Yes, the Davis Bacon Act has a racist pedigree and it was originally targeted towards the superior talents of Black craftsmen. Why does it still exist today?

Presently, a group of nonunion contractors have filed a lawsuit against the New York Secretary of Transportation in regards to his PLA on all contracts over $5 million. We are entering an Amicus Brief in support of this lawsuit. We are considering filing a lawsuit against the San Francisco 49er’s NFL team for applying a PLA on the new Levi’s Football Stadium. We will first appeal to the ownership of the team and the NFL. If they continue this racist process we will have no other choice. Imagine a football team where Black players are 77% of the racial make-up and they put up a virtual sign that says "No Colored contractors or workers allowed".

Harry C. Alford is the co-founder, President and CEO of the National Black Chamber of Commerce.


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